Art Festival: Breaking the frame
With an extreme cyclist, a human castle and a sound installation inspired by Edinburgh’s One O’Clock Gun, this year’s Art Festival, which
launches today, is much more than just Picasso
THE bike stunt video he shot in Edinburgh in 2009, Inspired Bicycles, has registered over 30 million hits on YouTube, with rides on railings and tree trunks so extreme that viewers have wondered if they were faked. But this month Scottish cyclist Danny MacAskill, also dubbed Danny MegaSkill, will deliver two live shows as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival, five months after a back operation.
“Is what I do art? That’s a tricky one. It’s quite funny getting permission to do this as a so-called artist,” the rider said yesterday. The 26-year-old from Dunvegan, Skye, used to ride around the city after his working day in a bike shop and his shows will bring him back to one of his old haunts, Rose Street, an Art Festival hub this year.
In his first interview about the Art Festival project, MacAskill said: “I do a lot of the video -type stuff, a lot of it is in the editing and the filming. It’s all in the eye of the beholder, and what they think of it. I’ve always grown up just riding for myself and riding for my friends but in recent years the video side has been a massive part of my riding and part of my life.”
MacAskill isn’t the only piece of extraordinary art in this year’s festival, which launches today with the sound of the One O’Clock Gun. The Turner Prize-winning Scottish sound artist Susan Philipsz, in an installation inspired by that Edinburgh tradition, will deliver a ten-second burst of sound from five sites around the city, while in the West Princes Street Garden today, artist Emily Speed, an Edinburgh College of Art graduate, has enlisted nine acro-balancers to perform a human castle. The performance by her human pyramid will be filmed for screenings in Rose Street shop windows.
The Art Festival this summer embraces the major summer exhibitions at the National Galleries of Scotland, including Picasso and Modern British Art, which has come to Edinburgh from the Tate in London and opens this weekend. It is expected to be one of the big August draws, but alongside titans of recent art history, and some of Scotland’s most popular modern painters, the festival also reaches out to contemporary and emerging artists, whose work is far removed from canvases in a gallery.
The line-up is meant to reassert Scotland’s place in the international art world, as well as explore new ways of understanding Edinburgh itself. Anthony Schrag, the event’s designated tourist in residence, is leading offbeat tours of the city, where he is now based, that run from a blindfolded, earplugged “unsensory” tour, to a Rose Street pub crawl interspersed with experts speaking on all aspects of city life. “It’s all about different aspects of tourism, or Edinburgh itself, or how we experience the Edinburgh environment,” he said. One of his ten tours – in a series of events that are free, but ticketed, through the Art Festival website – is A Guide on How to Be a Tourist in Edinburgh. This ranges from a blindfolded visit to the Scott Monument to encouraging people to stand in a group in ways that block people’s paths, as tourists typically do. “It’s a collection of ideas on what is tourism and what it comes from,” said Shragg, whose artistic productions have included wrestling matches with other artists to prove who is better. “I see art as the thing that allows us to ask interesting questions. I’m not interested in the object, I’m not interested in the gallery setting, those sorts of structures about art.”
There are more than 50 summer art exhibitions that come under the partner programme of the EAF this year at 30 galleries. The work runs from the American artist Philip Guston at Inverleith House, to the Swiss-German Dieter Roth at Fruitmarket Gallery. The festival boasts its most ambitious commissioning of new art shows yet, including Andrew Miller’s central pavillion in St Andrew’s Square and artist Callum Innes’ swathing of the Regent Bridge in coloured light.
“There are contemporary art festivals all over the world, but what makes our festival unique is the best of contemporary and emerging artists in the context of the greatest modern masters of the 20th century,” said festival director Sorcha Carey.
“It allows you to understand and reflect on what’s happening now against the backdrop of the high points of the history of art in the last 20 years. The diverse exhibitions remind us that Scotland and Edinburgh have long been an international centre for contemporary art.”
All this year’s commissioned artists have firm connections with Scotland. They include both native Scots with an international reputation and overseas artists who have trained or are based here.
Even the art festival’s map was designed by Peter Arkle, who lives in New York but was born in Penicuik. Philipsz, born and trained in Glasgow, is now based in Berlin, and exhibits worldwide. “We sometimes make a difference between Scottish and international artists,” Carey said, “but the commissions and other work reflect how Scotland operates in the international art world.”
Philipsz won the Turner Prize for a sound installation under bridges over the River Clyde in Glasgow, with recordings of three versions of a haunting Scottish lament sung by her. Timeline for the Edinburgh Art Festival is a sound installation that crosses the city in a straight line from Calton Hill, beginning with Nelson’s monument and including Old Calton Cemetery, North Bridge, Waverley Bridge, and the rooftops of the Scottish National Gallery.
“There are three harmonies with me singing,” said Phillipz. “They are short bursts of sound that last about ten seconds, designed to cut across ambient sound, of traffic or other noise,” she said.
Philipsz worked from a “time gun” map of 1860 showing the time it took for the sound of the One O’Clock Gun to reach points across the city. “It made me think about sound on a citywide scale,” she said. “Ships’ horns often use three harmonic notes to give it a fuller sound.”
She was inspired by John Robison, a Scottish engineer who invented the siren prototype in the 19th century. He was the original inventor of an organ-based system that could be played underwater and imitated the sound of a female voice, she said.
Philipsz currently has a show in Dokumenta, the modern and contemporary art exhibition in Kassel, Germany. “It’s good to be back in Scotland,” she said.
Timeline’s tones go from the note of G into D, and she said: “I think over time people will make connections with the sounds of the gun. It will change all the time. I have heard it many times now from different locations. Some really battle with ambient sounds of buses passing over the bridge. It really does make you aware of the places you’re in.
“I want to make people aware of the scale of the city and to heighten their sense of themselves in relation to where they are. You might pass through the same place every day but the sound might draw you into it in a different way.”
Picasso and Modern British Art
The exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art explores Picasso’s connections to British artists from Francis Bacon to David Hockney through 150 modern masterpieces.
Favourite Scottish painters
Works by Jock McFadyen at Bourne Fine Art, John Bellany at the Open Eye Gallery, Ian Hamilton Finlay at Ingleby Gallery, and Colourist GL Hunter at City Art Centre.
Rose Street film programme
Film works shown in storefront windows on Rose Street feature artists from Kevin Harman to Emily Speed, with the street a focus of the art festival this year.
Philp Guston: Late Paintings
The first exhibition here of the American artist whose work included cartoon-like paintings of the Klu Klux Klan, from the decade before his death in 1980.
New and vintage video works spanning 50 years from the pioneer artist, in the Summerhall arts venue. They include photos of her ice-skating naked with a beloved pet cat.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Thursday 20 June 2013
Temperature: 11 C to 19 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 11 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: West